NCAA Tournament Preview: Northwestern vs Boise State

Northwestern will play in their 2nd NCAA Tournament in school history on Thursday. They’ll meet the Boise State Broncos, who make their second straight Tournament appearance.

Tip Off: March 16, 2023 – 6:35 PM CT
Venue: Golden One Center – Sacramento, CA

Let’s get into the matchup:

The makeup of these teams is pretty similar. Both have elite defenses, Northwestern ranks 13th in defensive efficiency (KenPom) while Boise State ranks 14th. Neither team wants to push the pace and both teams have multiple senior leaders. The point spread on this game is has Boise State favored by one point, so many are expecting a nail-biter.

The Broncos appear to have a shooting advantage based on season-long shooting, especially from deep. While the Wildcats do have capable shooters in Boo Buie, Chase Audige, Ty Berry, Robbie Beran and Brooks Barnhizer, they have had their struggles this year.

Where The Wildcats Can Take Advantage:

Three weaknesses jump out to me when I look at Boise State:

Pick & Roll Defense: This is where the Wildcats can get their half-court offense going. Northwestern uses the 15th most pick& rolls per possession in the country. Boise State isn’t very good at guarding them (they rank 233rd in points per possession guarding the pick & roll). If Northwestern attacks hard and looks for Matthew Nicholson and Tydus Verhoeven, there should be opportunities for some easy ones. With points being hard to come by, some easy buckets will be huge in this one.

Below is a clip of San Diego State running a zoom action (double screen hand-off) similar to the zoom action Northwestern runs. against Boise State. Watch as the ball is reversed back to the bottom of the screen. The San Diego State big rolls and you can see #12 Max Rice is not over enough to help on the roll and has to commit the foul.

If he does help over here, than the corner shooter can raise up and find himself an open three. For that reason, Boise State has been hesitant to really take the roll away from what I saw.

Defending Shots at the Rim: Boise State ranks 295th in defense against shots at the rim. Part of that overlaps with the poor pick & roll defense. Part of it has to do with the lack of a real interior presence for the Broncos.

Passing: Boise State can get isolation heavy. They actually rank 350th in the country in assist percentage! That’s the worst of any team in the tournament. They use the Pick & roll a fair amount, but they almost never pass it. It’s just a screen for the driver to iso.

Below we see a few clips where passing is never in the minds of the Broncos:

To be fair, Boise State has some talented players who can take advantage in these iso situations. Often times on a mismatch like the switch with the big in the last clip. But I do think that’s a negative against a defense like Northwestern.

What to watch:

Boise State likes to post up, but it’s not always their bigs. They’ll just let the ball-handler dribble into the post on his own at times. We know the Wildcats have been notorious for trapping the post. But the Broncos haven’t done much passing out of the post. If the Cats do trap, Boise State will have to do something they haven’t done much all year and show they can pass the ball out of the post.

Northwestern’s defense could be a real problem for an isolation-heavy team like Boise State. The question is on offense; how often and effectively will Buie, Audige and Berry attack that pick & roll? I feared a matchup with a really talented offensive team for the Cats, but that’s not what we’re getting with Boise State. Northwestern should have all the opportunity in the world to advance to Saturday.

Published by Will McClaughry

Sports fan, data enthusiast and former division 3 college basketball player

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